Celebrating Balinese Design

Art In Bali | Written By, Namhar Hernanto |

When it comes to architecture and landscaping, Balinese design is known for its distinctive flair for being in harmony with nature.



Traditionally, Balinese architecture is very spatially orientated, and is based on the the Balinese Hindu principles that regulate every object to be conceived as having an ideal location in order to achieve harmony with the universe. The Balinese architecture principle, in particular, is originally inscribed on the ancient manuscript Asta Kosala Kosali, which includes eight guidelines for architectural designs that govern among others the proper size, location, and alignment of building types.


According to the Asta Kosala Kosali, the are three realms in the universe: the realm of the demons in the underworld, or known as buhr; the human realm or buwah; and the realm of the gods or swah. The three realms are represented on the island in the central mountainous area (especially Mount Agung) as the abode of the gods, the sea as the dwelling of malevolent spirits, and the in between coastal plains and foothills as the human realm.

When it comes to the Balinese house layout, the cardinal direction concept plays a very important role. There are two main cardinal directions of the Balinese universe: kaja (to the top or to the mountain, where the gods live) and kelod (to the sea, abode of the demons). In addition to the cardinal direction, the Balinese house compound and its various structures are metaphorical representation of the human body. Thus, the family shrine is identified with the head (top); the sleeping quarters and pavilion for receiving guests with the arms; the central courtyard with the navel; the hearth with the sexual organs; the kitchen with legs and feet; and the refuse pit in the backyard with the anus.


The construction of a new house compound is also a crucial matter in the Balinese culture; the construction can only begin on the chosen, most auspicious day, and offerings must be placed on the foundations with the hope that the construction will go smoothly. The architect, or known as undagi, will take a series of measurements from the body of the head of the household, and record them on a length of a bamboo, which will serves as a kind of yardstick to create the layout of the house compound.


Just like architecture, it’s crucial for the Balinese landscape design to be in harmony with nature. The fine examples of the grand Balinese landscape design can be seen in East Bali’s Taman Ujung and Tirtha Gangga water palaces.


Taman Ujung, a royal retreat constructed by the late King of Karangasem, I Gusti Bagus Djelantik that reigned from 1909 until 1945, was built to welcome and serve visiting dignitaries and kings from neighbouring countries, besides for the pleasure of the king and his royal family. Loosely translated to “the garden on the far end”, Taman Ujung is unique with old omissions and beautiful fish ponds that surround its premises, while keeping a high value on the history of the empire of Karangasem in East Bali. The main focus of this royal property are the pools surrounding the buildings. The architecture is a blend of several cultures: a western style was implemented for the gazebo, the arches are Middle Eastern, and the plentiful detailed carvings are Balinese.


Also in Karangasem, Tirta Gangga is a place where history meets relaxation, and architecture meets natural landscape. Stepping in to the water palace complex, an authentic royal atmosphere will immediately become evident to every visitor. The one-hectare property located on the outskirt of Amlapura in its well-known current state, was built in 1948 by the last king of Karangasem. The water palace, meaning “Water of the Ganges”, displays the unique Balinese landscape desings. It has been rebuilt and restored after the property was almost entirely destroyed by the eruption of Mount Agung in 1963.


On the first level of the water palace, the part of the property that is probably most photographed, you can find two large fish ponds with a number of Balinese statues and beautifully laid out stepping stones for everyone to wander through the pools.

Of course, with Bali becoming more and more popular tropical destination in the world, the island’s tourism industry is catering to the growing demand for Balinese-style and Balinese-inspired villas and resorts. Using nature at its best to provide a man-made structure in combination with a relaxed and tropical atmosphere, a number of private luxury resorts in Bali are combining the traditional Balinese landscape architecture principles with the island’s abundance of natural materials, famous artistry and craftsmanship of its people, as well as international architecture influences, new techniques and trends.


In Ubud, Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, a value on reinterpreting history is being placed. Selecting architects and designers who can straddle tradition and trends, and respect the immediate context. Inspired by an indigenous Balinese village, Mandapa, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve is beautifully set, following the natural contour where the lush jungle meets the Ayung River and temples stand majestic against a backdrop of rice fields. The resort incorporates a rice terrace at its centre, allowing guests to have an immersive local experience of the planting and harvesting of this most important Balinese resource.


Padma Resort Legian is a Balinese art sanctuary, exhibiting contemporary Balinese architecture with treasured works of art scattered around its luxurious premises that is set within a romantic 6.8-hectare garden landscape. The Dancing Butterfly, a five-meter brass and copper statue by the celebrated artist Nyoman Nuartha, is grazing the entrance at the resort. At the resort’s Lagoon Pool, you can find the statues of Tiger Barong and Barong by renowned artist I Wayan Winten. Also made by Winten, the Dragon statue at Padma Legian’s northern garden is a unique feature that adds to the five-star Balinese atmosphere at the resort.


In Nusa Dua, the design of the authentically Balinese Nusa Dua Beach Hotel & Spa is based on the classic palace landscape. The rich Balinese culture and traditions into the design is very apparent at the resort, especially since you’ll be greeted by the grand Balinese Candi Bentar gate as you approach the lobby area. The resort also features the Balinese Kulkul towers, traditionally used to house as a drum pavilion as a mean of communication. Other Balinese elements are spread around the resort such as the Dragon Head water feature that takes inspiration from Pura Tirta Empul, adding the Balinese landscape aesthetic to the resort.

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Namhar Hernanto



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